Newquay, Cornwall’s a great place to go foraging for mussels. You can cook the mussels on the beach, or take them home to cook later. You shouldn’t collect mussels from May to August as this is their breeding season.
You should only forage the mussels that are largest – over 2″/5cm in length. The smaller ones don’t taste as nice anyway, so you’re foraging sensibly and getting the best mussels to eat.
You will find the mussels on rocks, so any beach that has rocks that are submerged by the sea when the tide is in is a good place to look. As the tide goes out you’ll find the mussels clinging to the rocks, from a distance you’ll notice a black line in the cliffs where the mussels have been clinging. You will find mussels on most of the beaches in Newquay and even beyond; I remember my father and his friend foraging for mussels on Treyarnon Beach and then cooking them years ago. Bedruthan Steps also have some low-lying, accessible mussels.
On the whole, mussels are easy to find and forage on the beaches of North Cornwall.
Make sure you know the tides. The best mussels are collected on the spring tides, because the sea goes out further, exposing mussels that spend more of their time fully immersed. You should collect mussels close to low tide time, because this is the time when the best mussels are exposed – on the other hand, be careful as the tide’s about to turn and you don’t want to get cut off. Know the beach, know your tides.
Can I Eat Wild Mussels off Newquay Beach?
In short, “yes”, so long as you’ve adhered to the basics, then you can eat the wild mussels from Newquay Beaches. The basics simply include:
- Only collect mussels with intact shells, to make sure they are alive and fresh.
- Collect the mussels in a bucket of fresh sea water.
Once you’ve foraged for your mussels you’ve now got to prepare them for eating. If you can, soak them somewhere cool in clean saltwater to allow them to spit out any sand. Freshwater would kill them, it has to be salt water/sea water.
Now it’s time to sort them out – it’s best to do this into a second container so you know which ones you’ve done.
- Tap any open mussels on a hard stone; if they close shut they are alive. Any that stay open are dead and bad and should be thrown away. Also throw out any that are damaged. These mussels are not safe to eat.
- Your foraged mussels must be thoroughly cleaned and rinsed before you cook them. Firstly remove any of the threads on the outside – you should be able to do this by pulling at them, else cut them off.
- Scrape away any barnacles with the back of a knife.
- Rinse your foraged mussels several times in salt water/sea water to remove all traces of sand.
Now you can cook them – once cooked, throw away any that haven’t opened. Colour is not indicative of quality – orange flesh tells you the mussel is female, while a whiter hue suggests a male.
The BBC website gives a lot of mussels recipes: Mussels Recipes.
To cook mussels, all you need is a small camping stove, or other fire, to heat up some water. The simplest way of cooking mussels is:
- Place them in the bottom of a large, heavy-based pan with a small amount of water and turn up the heat, with the lid on, to steam them.
- As soon as the shells start gaping open, you know they are ready.
- Don’t overcook them or you’ll end up with rubbery flesh.
The simplicity of cooking your foraged mussels makes them a perfect al fresco beach food – and from this basic recipe you can add and adapt your own versions.
There’s a lot more food that can be foraged around the coastline, why not keep an eye out for some Rock Samphire, a perfect accompaniment for your mussels.
Or, if you want to see what else you can find foraging in Cornwall, check out the series of books by Emma Gunn, the first of the series is: Never Mind the Burdocks: A Year of Foraging in the British Isles – Spring Edition – March to May. Emma Gunn also holds foraging walks and cooking sessions in Newquay throughout the year.
Foraging & Wild Food Apps
Why not check out the latest foraging apps, some of them are free apps, to see what you might find: Foraging & Wild Food Apps
Images © Loz Pycock, mussels